The (legal) ins and outs of operating a restaurant

Written by: Johann Barnard

Many people dream of opening their own restaurant, often driven by visions of satisfying loyal customers with good food, drink and a hearty atmosphere. As important as these three elements are to running a successful eatery, they ignore the (sometimes) mundane legal and licensing requirements needed to operate such a business.

Lindy Pretorius, joint owner of La Luna and The Brauhaus in Johannesburg’s trendy Melville, had similar visions but was quickly introduced to the many practical, sometimes unexpected, aspects of opening a restaurant.

Lindy suggests that as scary as these may be, it is always best to tackle them yourself rather than relying on a consultant or agent to handle these processes.

To avoid frustration and heartache, she has outlined the most important legal requirements you need to adhere to.

1. Certificate of acceptability
This important document is essentially a certificate that states that your kitchen, facilities and processes meet set standards that ensure you are operating a hygienic, safe and credible restaurant.

2. Alcohol licence
Any business that sells liquor to the public needs a liquor licence. Lindy says the process of applying for a licence is best undertaken by the business owner. Staff at the Liquor Authority are informed and helpful and certain agents who say they can help you through the process are costly and not always speedier than doing this yourself.

The liquor laws state you will be ineligible for a licence if: you have been sentenced to jail without the option of a fine or been declared unfit to hold a liquor licence in the previous five years; have had your licence cancelled in the previous 12 months; are an unrehabilitated insolvent.

The forms and procedures are explained on this page.

3. Sampra licence
A licence that catches many new restaurant owners off guard is the need to acquire a South African Music Performance Rights Association (SAMPRA) licence to play any music in your restaurant. This applies to CDs, downloaded music and even a radio station.

You can download the application form here and find out about the organisation and the law here.

4. Third-party insurance
Operating a business that caters to the public opens you up to untold misery if you do not have the right kind of public liability cover. Imagine a customer slipping and falling, or simply having a glass of red wine spilled on an expensive white dressing gown. Lindy says third-party insurance is the best way to guard against any such unforeseen mishaps ruining your enterprise.